Sunday, July 25, 2010

Involuntary manscaping

If it’s true that the best way to choose a career is to remember what you used to love doing as a child and then find a way to get paid doing that, then my son Evan will make a bang-up chest waxer some day.

I discovered his unfortunate passion for defoliating the male form during our recent beach vacation, during which I made the painful mistake of being shirtless while carrying him. My guard was down since we were outside, and generally speaking, when in public spaces, I’m fully clothed and also not dancing, if I can help it.

Without warning, Evan reached over, laced his fingers into my chest hair and yanked like he was pulling a tablecloth out from under a china set.

Incidentally, why don’t people do that trick anymore? When I was a kid, you’d see someone try to yank a tablecloth out from under a fully loaded table on almost a daily basis. I guess we’ve had better things to do since the Internet got invented. Those pigs in Farm Town aren’t going to feed themselves, judging from your Facebook status.

“Kelly Clarkson!” I yelled, because that is what the movies taught me to say when one’s chest hair is violently removed. I would have yelled “Justin Guarini!” but thankfully, we’re advancing as a nation to the point where that reference might finally be too obscure.

Evan gleefully tossed a fistful of chest hair into the air like confetti, then went back to reload.

“Holy cow, Buddy, you’re killing Daddy,” I told him, grabbing his wrist to keep him from committing follicular patricide. He might only be thirteen months old, but he’s already maiming at a second-grade level.

Evan laughed, greatly enjoying the new game we’d just invented, “Exceed Daddy’s Pain Threshold.” I’d played my own variation of that game many years ago, just about every time my dad thought it was good idea to hold a board in place while I drove in the nail. Oh, and also the time I pressed the button to roll up the car window without noticing his elbow propped up in it.

Even as I tried to teach Evan that you’re supposed to get people’s permission and then charge them good money before ripping their body hair out by the roots, it was impossible to be mad at him. A baby’s laugh has a way of erasing whatever negative feelings (e.g., intense, throbbing pain) you might be having, like how a friendly wave in traffic erases the hostility you’d felt only moments ago for the guy who just knocked off your bumper.

The increasing frequency of Evan’s laughter is just one of the ways that parenting is getting more fun as he gets older. Feeding him has even become more entertaining lately, since he’s recently made it his life’s mission to smack the spoon out of our hands, even as he hungrily opens his mouth like a little bird.

Basically, the little rubber spoon becomes Luke Skywalker’s X-wing Fighter weaving its way toward the Death Star, dodging Evan’s TIE Fighter hands. Penetrating his defenses is no easy task, but once you manage to deliver the chicken-and-sweet-potato-puree payload into the heart of the Death Star, you can go ahead and put him down for a little nappy-poo. The metaphor kind of breaks down there at the end.

Also, did the Empire’s people name it the “Death Star”? If so, they should probably hire a different PR firm next time. Nobody’s going to want something called a “Death Star” in their backyard. If an average neighborhood association would pick Wal-Mart over you, it’s time to rethink your communications strategy.

Anyway, if you need me, I’ll be in the bathroom, shaving my chest.

You can wax nostalgic with Mike Todd at

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

We are the Champlains, my friends

Here are a few pics from our Lake Champlain trip. Kara found this little cottage a short walk from the entrance to the Colchester Causeway, a rail trail that just runs right out into the lake for miles. It seems like it shouldn't exist, but then there it is:

103 degrees F(ing hot)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A holiday in the Destructosphere

**UPDATE 7/20** After I turned this column in, my editor at the Chestnut Hill Local noted that the column didn't end so much as stop. I know! I can't believe he reads 'em all the way to the end, either. I thought only my mom did that. Anyway, I tacked on a couple more paragraphs at the end of this one. So we've got that going for us, which is nice.

As noted below, I've become temporarily interested in embarrassing myself in multiple mediums. Media. Medii. Please forgive the illustrations below (except for Kara's, which rocks), and bear with me until this phase passes, which should happen around Wednesday or so.**

“It would be way more of a vacation if we could leave those two at home,” my wife Kara said, motioning to the backseat. We’d been preparing for our first family vacation in two years with a mix of trepidation and more trepidation; this was our first time taking the Cirque du Todd on the road since the addition of our smallest (unless you measure in decibels) member of the family.

We’d found a cottage on Lake Champlain, Vermont, that allowed pets, so the dog, who had been mournfully watching us pack the car for three days, clinging to our heels with a look that said, “Don’t ditch me don’t ditch me don’t ditch me,”

leapt at the invitation into the backseat, completing the traveling menagerie and ensuring that none of our responsibilities would be left behind.

Up to that point, we hadn’t taken a vacation with our son Evan because traveling with an infant promised to induce much more stress than it would alleviate, especially when our destination wouldn’t come furnished with doting grandparents. But Kara and I were beginning to feel as if the world didn’t extend beyond work, our house and Babies R’ Us, so it was time to venture out once again, giving me my first opportunity to play the role of Vacation Dad, which meant I got to swear loudly while trying to fit ten pounds of junk into a five-pound Toyota.

“There, we’re all packed, but I had to stuff some things into the air vents,” I proclaimed proudly.

“What about clothes for you and me?” Kara asked.

“Oh, we exist, too. I completely forgot,” I replied.

The next day, we pulled out of the driveway with the car’s rivets creaking and moaning, the dog’s head sticking out of the window only partly by choice.

Upon arriving at the cottage, Kara and I stumbled out of the car, rubbing our temples. Evan had spent the previous two hours doing his best vuvuzela impersonation.

Artist's recreation:

We were greeted by Ruth, a sweet woman who brimmed with anxiety about renting her cottage to anyone, let alone a family with such obvious destructive potential.

After she got done explaining the strict leash laws, she took us inside to show us around. Kara and I shot glances at each other, noting the vast number of coasters, candles, plates, mugs, pictures and other breakable items that existed at an altitude of lower than twenty-four inches, an area that is known in Evan’s presence as the Destructosphere.

“This switch here controls the porch -- Where’s your dog?” Ruth asked.

“She’s right, oh man,” I replied, just as I turned to see a black streak shooting across the beach, hitting the water like a meteorite. Apparently, leash laws were made to be broken, especially when the front door can be nudged open with a wet nose.

In the end, we proved that it is possible to enjoy a vacation with an infant, as long as you don’t expect to do anything that might be described as “relaxing” or “sleeping past sunup.”

Kara spent the better part of the week slathering Evan in enough sunblock to squelch the sun itself. By the time she finished applying the third coat of SPF 50, the sun’s rays actually bent around Evan, making him completely invisible. We had to locate him by following the sounds of breaking coasters.

Kara’s packing of a tanker’s truck worth of sunblock proved to be prescient, as our trip coincided with National Terrify the Dog Day, known in some areas as the Fourth of July,

Guest awesome drawing by my illustrator Kara

which this year brought with it a heat tsunami of the kind that, apparently, waited to strike until some poor fools rented a cottage with no air conditioning.

You might think that hanging out with your family in 103-degree heat would bring everyone closer together, like how three Hershey’s Kisses turn into one big Hershey’s Kiss puddle if they’re left in, say, 103-degree heat.

But as it turns out, baking your family inside a convection cottage isn’t the best way to bring everyone together. The best way is to have your awesome new next-door neighbor rat out the people you’re renting from (“You know, there was a wall unit in the bedroom window last summer. I wonder where Ruth put it.”), so that you can call Ruth, grovel, help her lug the air conditioner from the trunk of her car into the window and then huddle on the bed as a family, together, gulping the cool breeze in a reasonable facsimile of relaxation, until the invisible baby gets loose and starts knocking over picture frames.

You can throw your leftover bang snaps at Mike Todd at

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Something sketchy

Ever since my sister sent me the link to this blog (which is fantastic and deservedly Internet-famous), I've been wondering if this old blog right here could use some visual spicing up. This notion will probably pass as soon as I remember that I'm lazy and have no artistic talent.

Still, today I challenged Kara to a duel to sketch our son Evan, who looks like this:

And also like this:
Here's my first swag at it. I know it looks just like the pictures above, but I swear, this one is just a drawing:

A few minutes after I sent this sketch to Kara and dared her to bring it, she sent this:

It's tough getting destroyed like that in public. I mean, I assume it is tough for Kara. Winning feels pretty awesome, though.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Self-pity with a twist of Lyme

Shivering and sweating under a down comforter, I stared at the useless house phone in my hand, trying to figure out how I could use it to get some help. Or sympathy. Mainly sympathy.

We have no phone numbers stored in our house phone, which we’ve kept as a relic of a simpler era, a time when you could actually get stuck on the phone with people who weren’t even calling to talk to you.

“Oh, hi, Aunt Darla. No, Mom’s not here. Yes, I’d love to hear about your goiter.”

But with my cell phone stranded all the way upstairs, an impossible journey away on my weakened, beflanneled legs, my only hope for summoning my wife lay with our quaint little house phone, the telecommunications equivalent of a butter churn.

It’s often said that Einstein didn’t know his own phone number, so perhaps I can be forgiven for not knowing my wife’s. As I suffered on the couch, I sifted through digits in my mind, searching for a combination that sounded right. Remembering phone numbers is a skill that just isn’t relevant anymore, like knowing basic grammar, growing sideburns or wrestling bears.

It’s not that I don’t regularly call Kara. At the mall, our cell phones free me from the prison of standing outside the women’s dressing room, holding her purse. Now I’m allowed to wander off, a free range husband, stopping every fifteen minutes to press the button to dial “Kara’s Cell” and to say, “I’m walking past Auntie Anne’s for the fifth time. Are you done in there yet?”

“Just trying on two more things,” she’ll reply, and I’ll swear in the background I can hear the tap-tapping of the thimble making its way around the Monopoly board as Kara hurries to finish her game with the sales clerk. That’s the only possible explanation for what’s taking so long back there.

In the end, when I began to feel so sick that wetting the couch sounded like a pleasant alternative to standing up again, I had to humbly call my parents to ask for my wife’s phone number.

“Kara’s over at a friend’s house and I need someone to dote on me. Can you get me her phone number?” I asked.

After I explained that I couldn’t call Kara with my butter churn, Mom went off to grab the phone number. Just then, from our driveway, Kara pressed the button that makes the dog fly into a barking frenzy and also raises the garage door. I pulled the hood on my sweatshirt tighter to look extra pathetic when she came in.

As it turned out, I had gone from perfectly healthy in the afternoon to running a fever of 103 by the evening, setting a new personal best, though a dubious one, like the time I held it at summer camp for six days.

“It sounds like you have Lyme disease,” my mom said later, remembering her own bout with the illness. You get Lyme disease from an infected tick bite, which at first sounds awesome, like how Peter Parker turned into Spiderman, but instead of being able to shoot webs out of your wrists, you get flu-like symptoms and weird rashes.

In all seriousness, Lyme disease, much like the Wu-Tang Clan, is nothin’ to mess wit’. (For those familiar with the original Wu-Tang lyrics, forgive me for cleaning them up. This being a family publication, we’re not allowed to say “ain’t”.) But I wasn’t ready to accept Mom’s diagnosis, since a fever can be caused by a million things, like typhoids, cabins and Saturday night.

Mom did scare me enough to actually go see a doctor the next day, something I usually won’t consider doing while I’m still ambulatory. I’m still waiting for the blood test to come back, but since I’m feeling much better now, I suspect they’ll be negative, like my chances for getting any more pity.

You can get stuck talking to Mike Todd at

P.S. The test indeed came back negative for Lyme, so that's fantastic news for me, but it might also mean I had something wildly contagious. Sorry about that, everyone who came in contact with me last week.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Maybe don’t Super Size us

After months of debate, my wife Kara and I have finally narrowed down our new car search to the three contenders that best fit all of our requirements: the Chevy Tooth Fairy, the Subaru Free Lunch and the Honda Basement That Doesn’t Flood at Least Once. Which is to say, the car we’re looking for does not exist.

All we want is an automobile that can seat two parents, two children (one real and one extremely hypothetical) and two visiting grandparents, with room to squeeze in a stroller and a dog, while still getting at least 25 combined mpg. We’d also like it to look, if not cool, then at least not painfully uncool. And we’d also like onion rings that make you skinnier.

Plenty of cars have more seating than Carnegie Hall, but the extra room always comes at the expense of fuel efficiency, making me feel like the bad guy from “The Lorax” just for looking at them. But our current fleet of one small hatchback and one smaller two-doored baby-hater just isn’t conducive to a baby-hauling lifestyle, so we’ve started considering our alternatives. We knew it would be tough to find an Earth-friendly large car, but we’re finding it nearly impossible to even be Earth-cordial.

This isn’t the first time we’ve experienced the clash of parenthood and treehuggerism. Since our son Evan was born just over a year ago, I’ve thrown away so many diapers and plastic bottle liners that when I try to high-five a tree, it leaves me hanging.

“Sounds like you need a minivan,” my buddy Johnny said over the phone recently.

“Yeah, we might. We’ve been looking,” I said, surprised to hear a friend advocate what is clearly the most logical choice for us. In general, our friends without children seem to harbor a deeply felt animosity toward minivans, as if they spent their respective childhoods receiving atomic wedgies from Dodge Caravans.

“Dude! I was kidding. I can’t be friends with you anymore,” Johnny replied.

I didn’t tell him that Kara and I have gone so far as to look at some minivans at a local dealership.

“We prefer to call it a swagger wagon,” the salesman said, parroting a line from a Toyota commercial I’d unfortunately seen, one that tried to make minivans seem cool, and which ultimately failed worse than a BP top kill.

Sometimes, I suspect Toyota’s marketing department of secretly trying to steer people towards SUVs. Just today, I saw an Internet banner ad with a picture of the newest Toyota minivan featuring this slogan underneath: “Mommy like.”

Seriously, “Mommy like”?

Are they trying to make it impossible for a fair-to-moderately self-respecting dude to buy a minivan? This seems like purposeful sabotage. Daddy no like.

The only car we’ve seen that meets our requirements for space and fuel efficiency is the hybrid Toyota Highlander, the biggest tease of the automotive world.

“It costs $9,000 more than the comparable non-hybrid Highlander,” Kara said, researching on her computer after we got home.

“But we’d save on gas,” I said.

“At $4.00 a gallon, we’d break even in 25.4 years,” she replied, helping us both to locate the boundary between idealism and reality.

Fortunately, we’re not in a huge rush, so it looks for now like we’ll just keep wedging ourselves into the cars we have now.

Also, with all this talk of upsizing, I hope it was clear to any of Evan’s grandparents who might have been writing their own stories between the lines that the above-referenced second child is more hypothetical than the Higgs boson, and will remain that way for some time. Kara’s not pregnant, is my point. But if she gets that way, we might need your help knocking out a windshield to make room.

You can stow Mike Todd behind your third row at